The news that an online protest is being organised to campaign to introduce legislation to address, Revenge Porn is welcomed.
This is more appropriately known as Image Based Abuse. It comes after tens of thousands of incidents of image-based sexual abuse were identified as being uploaded and shared on a number of online forums.
A protest, is provisionally being organised for November 28. Organisers hope to see the legislation which is currently part of ‘Coco's Law', championed by Dublin mother Jackie Fox, who lost her daughter to suicide following cyberbullying, enacted in to law.
This legislation will protect victims of cyberbullying and make it a criminal offence. It will also address incidents for which, naked or sexually explicit content is shared without the consent of the individual involved online or exchanged through message apps.
A number of media outlets have incorrectly stated that there has been a massive ‘leak' online, which saw thousands of images and videos, mainly of Irish women, shared on online forums.
While the Victims Alliance of Ireland may have only only became aware of these mega-files over the last number of days, this has been going on for a very long time. In fact, we have been addressing this very issue with teens and parents all over the country for many years now.
Some time ago Katie Kirwin, a young Cork woman had images harvested from her social media account and posted on an Internet Relay Chat site. The ordinary images were then sexualized by others on the site. There was also personal information posted. It was very unsettling to see up to date posts being copied and shared with platform members in real time.
The commentary had incredibly horrific sexual undertones. This caused incredible hurt and distress at the time to the young woman involved.
“We at the Victims Alliance, through our head of image-based abuse Megan Sims, became aware of an issue where people are using internet forums to share images, some intimate, some not, into mega files. The one common theme is that the victims are unaware that their images are being used in this way,” said Linda Hayden, Founder of the Victims Alliance.
“We even have examples where people have sent these images to members of the victim's families. To give the context of the size of the issue, some of these files have 11,000 images in them, most have between 5,000 and 6,000. We have seen dozens of these files.”
Images are frequently harvested from social media platforms including Instagram and Snapchat. When individuals post content of themselves, many neglect to fully use privacy settings. That may lead to content being accessible to people they may not know. It may also be harvested by an account holder who has been accepted as a friend or follower.
Dating apps such as Tinder, POF, Bumble and many more are also used to harvest content. Quite often victims can be reckless and end up exchanging self generated sexual content, which is then shared on.
Unfortunately, the phenomenal increase and movement by many young Irish girls to OnlyFans accounts, has led to thousands of ordinary girls being convinced by the stits existing user's propaganda to become a Sex Worker and self sexually exploit themselves for money online.
This has had a dramatic impact on the amount of self generated sexualized content being uploaded and shared across hundreds of platforms all over the world.
The huge availability of so much sexually themed content being self generated by young Irish adults in 2020 is not a positive situation. I affords disempowerment to child advocacy groups and highlights the exceptionally difficult task we now face, in trying to protect and educate teens and children about online dangers.
A large quantity of the images posted on Porn sites and online forums, have been harvested from online platforms. Images are also frequently taken without knowledge or consent of women in changing rooms, while are sleeping, and also while they engage in sexual acts with a partner.
“The files that we are talking about pertain mostly to Irish women, with some men, but until we manage to contact all of the victims, we won't know for sure.”
“They have had their consent and body autonomy removed, they have been degraded and they are fearful of who has seen these images, what they are using them for and if this will affect their work, personal and family life.”
Obviously this will be exceptionally distressing for all victims of non consensual image based abuse. It will harm their digital footprint, possibly permenantly. It will also directly impact their personal and family life, especially if the content being shared is self generated sexual content.
Ms Hayden said a large proportion of victim-blaming has been seen around the crime of image-based abuse.
“An attitude of ‘well if you didn't want this to happen you shouldn't have taken the pictures' and in response to that we say ‘cop on'. It's our body, our choice, but likewise, we maintain control over the consent around these images.”
While nobody ever wishes to see an individual re-victimised through blame, there has to be an acknowledgment of personal accountability for the content created.
When an individual of their own free will decides to self generate sexualized content and share it online, there are substantial and long term personal risks associated with that. It's not just simply a matter of post, send or share and then just forget about it and hope for the best. That's not how the online world works.
There are so many things that can go wrong. Whether the images are sent in error to the wrong person, a device is infected by Malware, the device is lost, handed in for an upgrade, shared on in genuine error. It might be as a result of a data breach or an account, device or platform being compromised. Malicious intent may not play a role at all.
“To the consenting no harm can be done”. And consent, is going to be the battle ground upon which these matters will be vigorously contested upon reaching the Irish courts eventually. Proff of intent to cause harm.
In other jurisdictions such battles are well underway. One of the most common themes emerging, what exactly did you consent to, when you self generated sexualized content that was created posted or shared with another online?
Given the graphic nature of the content, did you not realise the potential for personal harm and reputational damage the images would cause? If so why would you take such a highly dangerous personal risk?
Given that devices can be infected by malware or distributed in error to others. How were people to know your consent was not given for them to view and share the content on?
How was any individual to know they should not be viewing, given that they know neither the person who generated the content, or the original receiver of the image who shared it on.
Who does the victim even try to hold accountable, after discovering that self generated sexual content, voluntarily created without any form of coerisin, has now appeared on multiple porn and IRC platforms, as well as being shared across multiple messenger apps such as What'sApp, and many more.
A SINGLE image has now spread so far and wide across the internet, that all attempts to remove it becomes eventually fruitless. The harsh reality may eventually arising, that the image is out there forever.
The question now becomes, if you had your time over would you have taken a hard copy of that image, after getting it developed, and distributed to another person or group of people. Or took part in a photo shoot for an explicit magazine? Very often the answer to this is a resounding NO!!
So why do it with a digital image on a platform which affords it ending up as being in existence forever?
The victims here are adults. Individuals who should be fully conscious of how the online world works.
Mary Crilly from the Sexual Violence Centre late in 2019, warned of the hidden cost of platforms like OnlyFans, “We talk to women in the pornography industry who tell us how tired they are and how many injuries they have had,” she said.
“This is glamourising a very dangerous industry.”
“A lot of young women might feel like this is ‘of the moment' but when you upload a picture it's there forever.”
“All of a sudden you are not the girl who did this as a once off for fun, this is who you are now. It's amazing how quickly this can happen. For me, all it's doing is objectifying women all over again.”
She feared women using the site might be open to manipulation.
“Telling people how to move, how to look and what to do is a clever way of making it look like the girls are in control.
“It's a form of manipulation. In reality, the girl cannot be in control because she has no way of knowing who is looking at the pictures or what they are doing while they are viewing them. The person uploading these photographs might feel good for that moment but it is a shortlived feeling.”
Ms Crilly expressed fear about the long term repercussions for women flaunting explicit content online.
“It's gotten to a stage where if you don't agree with these things you are seen as a prude. What a lot of women don't realise is that in another four or five years time your photos could pop up again and start doing the rounds on a completely different site.”
So be it on a dating site, a message app or in OnlyFans, why intentionally put yourself in a position of risk of harm? Do something which has the potential to permanently damage your personal reputation and digital footprint forever? Something that may result i being impacted by serious long term mental health issues, or lead to self harm or worse?
National media outlet the understands that the Harassment, Harmful Communications, and Related Offences Bill will be brought before the Justice Committee on December 1.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said: “Harassment and abuse in any form, whether online or otherwise, is utterly unacceptable and has no place in Irish society. Progression of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill is a priority action for me as Minister for Justice and I am committed to seeing it enacted as quickly as possible.”
However, the introduction of this bill will not provide for the stupidity of adults who should know better. Cameras have been around for a long time. However, pornography has changed people's perspective of what is and isn't acceptable sexual behaviour.
Some individuals do make a genuine mistake and deserve justice when it goes wrong. But the resulting investigations can take many years to resolve. Unfortunately, due to the limited resources investigating sexual crime not just in Ireland, but globally, they are swamped with the number of new investigations arrising faster than they can deal with.
The more adults choose to self sexually exploit themselves for whatever reason, reduce the ability of these professionals attempting to address the more serious harms being inflicted on children who are now also self generating sexually exploitative material on demand and live streaming it to other children and online sexual predators.
Society affording a blanket acceptance that it's your body and you can do with it what you will online, contradicts what we are attempting to teach children. There has been this consistent growing acceptance that online exhibitionism is perfectly normal and acceptable. It was even recommended by the HSE here in Ireland recently.
For every advocate group who continue to emerge and attempt to normalize the exchange of self generated sexual content among adults, you are enabling the sexual exploitation of children on a biblical scale.
Perhaps, we were right when we stated right from the outset in 2015 that online safety education for both adults and children needed to focus on understanding human behaviour in that environment, rather than simply showing platform settings.
Certainly, we have never laughed at, or approached the exchange of self generated sexual content as “Just something people do nowadays”. For anyone seeking solid education in this area, please feel free to contact us.
Our perspective on this has always been prevention, not making excuses or suggesting methods that don't work such as “Don't show your face” in an image. Considerable harm has been caused by the countless advocacy groups who showed a complete disregard for the wellbeing and welfare of many.
Anyone who has been negatively affected by this can contact Women's-Aid Ireland. Their 24-hour helpline is 1800 341900.